Generalisations are never ideal, but there certainly seems to be particular characteristics that C-suite executives in investment management share. Drive, intellect, energy and a passion for their business will likely top the list.
However, the extremes of such qualities can include intolerant, impatient or egotistical tendencies. When it comes to communicating with those at the top of the food chain, it goes a long way to understand the important nuances that would help you be perceived more positively.
While the C-suite has come to take on broader meaning over the past few years, with titles like chief experience officer or chief transformation officer often included in the broader 'suite', the four most widely regarded seats making up the executive committee (ExCo) are chief executive officer (CEO), chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO) and - in investment management, chief investment officer (CIO).
Put yourself in their shoes
Approaching such senior management requires a level of empathy and professional awareness for quite how busy these people are. They will undoubtedly be juggling dozens of equally urgent and important decisions at any one time, as well as feeling the constant pressure of their role as both external and internal figureheads, managing their teams, and being asked to have a view on multiple business units as well as their own.
Time-poor people in a business environment can have limited attention spans. They might, therefore, come across as standoffish - not because they are disinterested or do not care, but because their time is precious and therefore every word must count.
How to approach them
Before you think about the language you use in an email requesting a meeting, or the tone with which you address them during a presentation, take another step back. Is the CEO the right person to take this document to? Are they the person who really needs to be in that meeting or can someone elsewhere in the business make the decision you need?
Be clear, concise and to the point. Brevity - providing it still conveys the reason for your communication - is generally preferred. Keep sentences short and ordered, and move the dialogue on to your single conclusion. Think about the following questions: What are you proposing? Why does it matter? What will it cost? How will it benefit the business? Visuals might help rather than lengthy paragraphs, so consider how they can be used to make your point more clearly.
Avoid small talk, jargon, unobvious acronyms and waffle. Have you used 10 words when four would suffice? Remember, your C-suite - though incredibly intelligent and working in the same business as you - are not your sector specialists. They might have had very little interaction with the marketing departments' recent activity. Specific concepts need basic explanation without being patronising. If in doubt at which level to pitch, think of The Economist, or the Financial Times. Both are intellectual but not overly technical. They are written in plain English, but for an informed consumer. You will not do yourself any favours by trying too hard to sound clever, or blinding them with science.
Be precise. If you need a particular person to make a decision on something, flag that. 'Dear All' emails are to be avoided where possible, but if actions are required, let the people in question know. Don't assume all emails are read - for example, many have settings that filter those where a person is only copied. And if you don't have the answer to something to hand, never try to guess or make it up on the spot. Explain you don't have the detail to hand, but you will find out immediately. Treat every meeting like a job interview.
Be brief, yet thorough. This is true whether you are submitting a proposal or idea electronically, or delivering a presentation that will be shared with the board. Always be prepared for questions to come in from any angle. Either attach the detail in a separate appendix, or have it to hand. Do not include anything at top-line without having a raft of detail, rationale, risks and potential pitfalls ready to hand, should they be required afterwards. This is especially applicable if you are presenting to more than one person, which might bring a more diverse range of queries, as you will have more perspectives to consider.
Be mindful of their time. If the interaction is less formal, for instance the CEO is in the lift or you've bumped into them elsewhere in the building, remember that they were not expecting to meet. Never jump in with what you want to tell them. Gauge - or even better, ask - if they have time or inclination to hear what you have to say and if not then, when might be convenient. While coming across as 'doffing one's hat is probably not necessary, an ounce of deference and being respectful is vital.
Have a solution in mind. This can either be one you've already put into play, or a recommendation for how things should be taken forward. Similarly, never pitch an idea as though it is perfect - prepare to be asked about what could possibly go wrong, or where the risks might be. How strong you are in your role and your opinions will reflect on the C-suite. Therefore, your opinions are valid, so share them with confidence and be prepared to back them up. Don't share multiple options, but rather focus on two choices: one being your recommendation and reasons why you believe it is the right thing to do. If they choose the other one, remember that challenging these decisions can be healthy, but also know when to accept defeat.
If you're an ambitious marketer, looking for ways to accelerate your marketing career, check out our upcoming Future Leaders course.